Designing for Visual Efficiency: Redux

One really cool benefit of working at BMO is our ‘Institute for Learning’ the home for our corporate training and major events in the North end of the city. Iwas invited to come up there yesterday and give my “Designing for Visual Efficiency Talk” to the staff there as well as with staff at our locations in Chicago and Milwaukee all in all there were about 40 in the room and an additional 100 or so online.

As we were using a special Virtual CLassroom app, and I had to make my 90minute presentation fit into 45 minutes, I had to do some redesign to my deck so I made a clean start and rebuilt it almost from scratch. (I was never super thrilled with how the first deck turned out either) – Working with this content has been an interesting experience as I’ve now packaged it as a 90 minute talk, a 45 minute talk and a 5 minute Ignite – it’s actually been really good practice for developing story and learning where/what to cut.  Continue reading Designing for Visual Efficiency: Redux

What Exactly Do I Do?

Ah, the million dollar question. What do I do? Where do I fit?

To date, 2009 has been an interesting ride for any number of reasons, not the least of which has been everything employment related – so I thought, as the summer draws to a close and everyone starts getting back to work I thought it would be a good time to post some of my thinking on just what it is I do.

VizThink is still very much alive and kicking but as you may or may not know I’ve only been half-time there since February. We’re in the process of evolving the business model and exploring ways to fund a community while still making it open and accessible for all. It’s been a great learning experience so far and am thrilled our backers have been open to keeping things running, even if only on a skeleton crew, while we try and make it work.

Of course, “half-time” means I’m looking for contract work to help top things up every month and contract work means being able to clearly explain what you do to people. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to define just what it is I do and, more importantly, what it is I want to do but this is easier said than done. Anyone who knows my background knows it’s pretty varied – I’ve started a few companies, built communities and done a whole pile of freelance consulting (discovery, needs analysis, design & specification mainly) for companies big and small. Needless to say, I haven’t found a silo yet that really defines me.  I’m an entrepreneur at heart and understand the inner workings of companies (both services and product-based) but my passion lies in the shorter term projects where I can have a meaningful impact in specific ways (compared to building a company out over years).

Asking Myself “What Do I Do?”

I spent much of the early part of the year taking inventory of what it is I’ve done, what I liked doing (and what I hated doing) and have been trying to figure out what to make of it. As I said, I like to mix things up and change is always good – working on a variety of projects on different topics is what really interests me. I get fired up learning about new processes, businesses and topics and being able to apply my acquired experiences and skills to help solve people’s problems.

As I’ve sat back and processed my experiences, interests and skills the same themes come up consistently: Ideas, Visuals & Facilitation.


I often describe myself as the “what if?” guy. I’m always looking at things, wondering if they can be improved – when I get the chance to someone who knows the inner workings of something will invariably ask “What if … ?” or “Have you thought about … ?” – I like to prod around, dig into how something works and try to find more efficient or useful ways for that ‘thing’ to function. It can be a device, a site, an application or a business model, it doesn’t make a difference to me. I love being a sounding board and kicking around ideas with people so ping me if you want to grab a coffee/drink sometime – I can’t promise they’re all good ideas, but it should be a interesting, if not useful, conversation.


The Integrated Content LifecycleI’m not an artist, at least not in the fine arts sense of the word. I love photography and take thousands of pictures a year. I doodle, sketch and chart stuff out constantly. Visuals are at the root of just about everything I do – whether it’s as simple as tabling data in a visually appealing way, flow-charting a process or as complex as designing a PowerPoint presentation or detailed information graphic. I’ve done this as long as I can remember, but only in the past few years has the term Visual Thinking really emerged as a widely recognized descriptor for this practice.


VizThinkToronto6-0744.jpgA couple of years ago I would never have described anything I do as “facilitation” but the truth is I’ve been doing it since I started my first company. The consulting process, especially in the early discovery and needs analysis phases,  is all about successful facilitation. In the early years it was mostly ad hoc and improvised, “unconscious facilitation” if you will, but over the past year or so I’ve been working to brush up my formal facilitation skills, through courses and practice,  and have designed and run numerous sessions since VizThink Toronto 1 in early 2007.

So What Does This All Mean?

When push comes to shove, what do I tell people I do? What’s my title on a business card? What silo do I fit in? (ugh)

This is an impossibly hard question, and from talking to many people I know, I’m not the only one struggling with these days – there’s a lot of us who just don’t fit in the normal hierarchy of the business world. We can be inserted in seemingly random places but function perfectly well in any of them – we’re like swiss army knives, lots of functions – we do a few things really really well and have the skill or at least general knowledge of a lot of other areas. In an emergency we can help fill those roles, and in other cases we can simply serve as the body of the knife, holding together all of the other components that go into your projects. It’s a hard thing to explain, so I’ve tried to condense my pitch to a few key areas…

The Elevator Pitch

Here’s my first stab at my elevator pitch:

I help organizations discover, refine and share their stories enabling them to communicate with their audience in the most effective way possible in order to achieve their goals.”

My “Silos”

So where to position me? I’ve begun referring to myself as a “Facilitator and Information Designer”. Both very broad silos, and deliberately so.

Here’s just some of the ways these skills can be applied:

Facilitator Information Designer
  • Ideation/Brainstorming Sessions
  • Needs Analysis
  • Discovery
  • Strategic Planning
  • Business Model Development
  • Innovation Facilitation
  • Decision Making
  • Story Development
  • Team Building
  • Dispute Resolution
  • Presentation Design
  • Story / Presentation Development
  • Information Architecture
  • Data Visualization
  • Process Illustration
  • Info-graphic Design
  • Document Design

I’m Looking for Contracts

If you have, or hear of, any opportunities that you think I could help with please get in touch – I’d love to chat about what you’re thinking and give you my honest opinion if it’s something I can help with.

Recent Work Examples

For reference here’s a few examples of some recent work I’ve done:

Feedback Appreciated

Wow, if you’ve gotten all the way to here – thank you! Next time we meet I owe you a coffee/beer.

As you can imagine, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post – am I off the mark? Did I miss something? Do you think I’d be good at something else?

If so, please leave a comment below, tweet me via @ryancoleman or drop me an email ryan (at) ryancoleman (.) ca

Photo credits: ohadwedb @ Flickr, eleaf @ Flickr, ifindkarma @ Flickr

Next VizThinkU Workshop: “Agile Presenting” – July 30th!

VizthinkLogo400A quick VizThink update: Next Thursday, July 30th, we’re having our next VizThinkU workshop: “Agile Presenting: Engage your audience and introduce interactivity to your presentations” with Heather Gold and John Vlismas. Both are successful comedians who have also made a name for themselves as speakers with their respective, widely-praised, sessions “Unpresenting” and “The Shared World”.

Now I’m sure you’re asking yourself, “What do two comedians have to teach me about making my presentations better?”

More than you might suspect.

Imagine the work environment of a stand-up comic: Performing in an unfamiliar environment, to an unfamiliar crowd and they know there are at least one or two people out there in that dimly-lit room who probably want to take them down a peg. Sound familiar?

Maybe reminds you a little of your last speaking engagement, sales presentation or meeting?

While we’ve focused a lot at VizThink on making your presentations look more appealing and be more effective from a visual stand-point, we haven’t spent a whole lot of time on the skills around delivering it – which is why we assembled this VizThinkU course. This workshop will introduce you to new ideas about engaging and interacting with your audience as well as approaches to think quickly on your feet and react to unexpected situations.

Our two faculty members for this session, Heather Gold and John Vlismas, are both accomplished comedians and public speakers. In addition to their stand-up careers they’ve also consolidated their skills and experiences into workshops that they’ve delivered around the world, and our now bringing them online as part of VizThinkU.

This session promises to be entertaining and informative and you don’t want to miss it – be sure to register today.

This two and half hour webinar will be divided into two parts:

w/ Heather Gold

People who work in the digital realm love interactivity in every realm, but when it comes to presenting, they forget all about it.

In this workshop on UnPresenting innovative comedian Heather Gold breaks down how public communication works and then remakes it in our collective image. Heather focuses on the main thing business has ignored: the actual source of power in the room and how to engage it.

The Shared World
w/ John Vlismas

Successful comedians are high-functioning multi-taskers. They must exert charm, pre-empt mood changes and conclude a sale every time they tell a joke. Essentially, they are expert at forming temporary movements and guiding that movement for the duration of the performance. Take away the humour, and the skill set resembles the ideal profile for a good leader, be it a person or a brand.

Where corporations find it difficult to react to their markets quickly, encumbered by protocol largely designed to assign blame, comedians must assess and react in the blink of an eye, sometimes facing several thousand people they have never met.

Ideally specialist communicators, comedians are adept at managing risk, and do so constantly.

The Shared World™ is a system of thinking which encourages high-speed analysis using empathy, intuition and assimilation of data rapidly to make lightning speed, high quality decisions.

The key to winning over an audience is to position oneself directly at the heart of the crowd. Instead of trying to analyze how they feel – experience how they feel.

Don’t Miss this Workshop

Honestly, I’m really pumped for this workshop – John & Heather are both hilarious but, at the same time, also have really great content.  Whether you have to make small internal presentations or speak regularly to large audiences I guarantee you this is one you do not want to miss.

Check out the workshop page at and register today!

– Ryan

10 Photography Quotes You Should Know


Yesterday I came across a post entitled “10 Photography Quotes You Should Know” by Hákon Ágústsson at the Digital Photography School. It had some great nuggets in it but it struck me as the sort of thing that really needed some visuals to go along with it – after all, what fun is a bunch of photography quotes without photos?

Long story short, I had a little free time this morning and decided to put a slide deck together – it was a fun little personal exercise and I hope you like it.I sourced all the photos form Flickr under the Creative Commons license and I’ve put this deck out there with the Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-alike license as the strictest of the photos (that weren’t mine) requested.

The Presentation

[Presentation Design] Making the Pitch for Action on Climate Change

A few weeks ago I got introduced to the Global Campaign for Climate Action (GCCA), an organization which had been assembled to help achieve a ambitious, fair, and binding agreement in December at the UNFCC Climate Conference in Copenhagen. As they enter the final run-up to the event over the next few months they were looking to spruce up their presentation deck in advance of their official launch – the only catch? it had to be done in roughly 48 hours.


The Process

Up for the challenge, I got started. Over the next 48 hours I helped them entirely reflow the presentation to create a story that built up a case for action and showed how the GCCA would play a pivotal role in coming away from Copenhagen with a deal that was best for the planet, and all its stakeholders. From there I built out the presentation deck, created a consistent template and added visual elements that helped further illustrate what’s at stake.

The Results

Some example slides from the finished presentation

gcca_port gcca_port1

Case Study

I’ve summarized the entire process as a mini-case study on my site – you can access it here.

As a freelance facilitator and information designer, I can help your organization discover, define and develop your story so you can share it more effectively – If your organization could benefit from better explaining what it is you do, then I can be of help. Contact me today.